Builder responsibility laws in Costa RIca

 Your beautiful new Costa Rican home was finally built and you settled in a while ago. Everything turned out great, so now you can kick back and enjoy your perfect space. Then one day you notice something that doesn’t seem right. Probably no big deal, you think … until seemingly overnight, one problem has led to another and it’s all going horribly wrong. How did you miss this? What do you do now? Who is responsible?  What are the Costa Rican regulations.

The answer to the last question is, whoever was in charge of the building project in Costa Rica, such as an architect, civil engineer, developer or construction company. Under Costa Rican regulations (Civil Code, Section 1185), such individuals or companies in charge of projects that include buildings, bridges or other infrastructure are responsible for total or partial losses due to defects in the construction process or the underlying soil. When more than one professional is involved, each one assumes responsibility for the extent of participation in the project (Civil Code, Section 1186). This is based on the information recorded in the official construction log book (bitacora).

Since this liability is granted by law and not by contract, these are important considerations: The professional(s) responsible can be sued by the building owner — or the administrator of a condominium — only when hidden defects are discovered related to the construction process, the quantity and quality of the materials used, or the lack of supervision or recklessness and negligence of the professional(s) involved. Damage or loss resulting from force majeure (acts of God) is not grounds for legal action.

These regulations protect people in the event of major issues or accidents related to new construction or remodeling. They do not apply to minor construction work or damages that pose a relatively low risk. For example, a crack in a wall may not be sufficient grounds to sue; however, a crack in a structural beam would be. The scale or dimensions of the damage can only be determined in court.

These regulations were created
to protect people in the
event of major issues or accidents.

The statute of limitations for these kinds of legal actions is five years, starting from the moment the project is completed and the owner officially takes possession (Civil Code, Section 1185). This statute of limitations is upheld by law and cannot be waived.

Any other damages that occur during the construction process or thereafter — for example, failure to complete the project — can be claimed as a regular civil case for breach of contract (Civil Code, Sections 868 and 1045). The applicable statute of limitations is 10 years. However, there could be criminal liability in cases of accidental death or injury caused by a constructive failure relating to the responsible professional’s lack of expertise or negligence. Consequently, the statute of limitations is different for crimes, as opposed to strictly civil or commercial cases.

As a final recommendation, any construction or remodeling project should always be covered by a full coverage insurance policy, including fire and/or civil liability coverage. Most local insurance companies provide this service.

For more information and to review relevant construction agreements or contracts, please contact your attorney.

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